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Shakeup at the State Police academy after trainees are ordered to do bear crawl

The head of the State Police has ordered a staff shakeup at the State Police academy and opened an internal affairs investigation after trainees blistered their hands doing bear crawls, an unauthorized exercise, State Police said.

Colonel Christopher Mason last week learned about two instances of academy trainees doing the exercise. “The exercise resulted in blisters to some trainee’s hands, which were treated by the Academy Medical Unit,” State Police spokesman David Procopio said in a statement.

The bear crawls, an exercise in which a trainee’s weight is borne on hands and toes, were “not authorized as part of the training curriculum, added no value to the training, and contradicted the expectations” that State Police command staff had conveyed to the academy staff before training began, Procopio said.

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Mason has removed and replaced the academy commandant and executive officer responsible for oversight of the academy’s day-to-day operations. The two drill instructors who supervised the exercises have been returned to their regular assignments in other areas of the department, Procopio said.

The ongoing investigation is intended “to identify and hold accountable any Academy staff found responsible for the unauthorized training,” Procopio said.

Mason “issued a directive explicitly reiterating that unauthorized and extra-curricular physical exercises and training activities are prohibited and that the health and wellness of Trainees shall be prioritized when considering any exercise to mitigate injury,” Procopio said.

“This directive reiterates one previously given by the Colonel to Academy staff, including drill staff, prior to the start of the current Recruit Training Troop in May,” Procopio said.

Patrick McNamara, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, said in a statement: “The training at the Massachusetts State Police Academy is rigorous, challenging, and arguably the most elite in the Nation. Our members on the academy staff do an outstanding job preparing our trainees to be Troopers.

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“Concerning the allegations,” he said, “an internal investigation is being conducted by the Department to determine if any policies and procedures were violated.”

Earlier this month, State Police said a trainee had accidentally fired his gun during a training exercise and suffered a non-life-threatening injury to his leg.

Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that he welcomed the investigation.

“The academy training is, in many respects, the way we introduce recruits to the sort of goals and objectives and attitude and culture of the Mass. State Police,” Baker said. “One of the reasons ... that Colonel Mason was a very attractive candidate to us when he interviewed for the job was he talked a lot about the fact that that training academy is a very important place to send a message to new recruits, and frankly to send a message to folks who go back for in-service training about the attitude and the culture of the organization.”

The governor said Mason had “talked a lot ... about the fact it needed to be less of a militaristic approach and more of a community-based, community policing approach with real focus on tools and capabilities and policies around de-escalation and collaboration.

“And this story as it plays out, as I understand it, is clearly not consistent with the way the colonel organized and has operated the training academy since he became the colonel. So I’m glad it’s under investigation and I have full faith he will do the right thing with respect to what should happen here,” Baker said.

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Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.